Overdraft fees are charged when you don’t have enough cash in your account to cover a payment you’ve made, and as part of an overdraft protection service, the bank covers the difference for you. The bank applies a fee for covering the transaction. Essentially, you have to pay back the amount that the bank lent you to cover the difference between what you had in your account and the actual payment total, plus the fees.
Overdraft fees average around $34 for banks. Frequent overdrafters pay almost $450 more in overdraft fees every year than somebody who’s not enrolled in an overdraft protection program. Understanding how overdraft fees work can help you save money and better manage your finances.
Federal regulators made it mandatory for certain financial institutions to obtain your consent before adding you to an overdraft protection program that charges an overdraft fee on most ATM and debit card transactions. When opening a checking or savings account, you must opt in to overdraft protection, which allows the institution to apply a fee.
How much are overdraft fees really costing you?
Overdraft fees can add up if you’re not careful. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that overdraft and NSF fees together cost Americans $17 billion annually. These fees amount to the single-largest banking-related expense for consumers who own a checking account.
According to the CFPB, most overdraft fees are incurred by debit card transactions of $24 or less and are repaid within three days. Consider overdraft fees in a lending context: if you were to take out a $24 standard loan and pay an additional $34 to borrow the funds for three days, this loan would have a 17,000% APR.
Strategies for avoiding overdraft fees
Sign up for online banking
Online banking is one of the benefits many financial institutions offer. Signing up for online banking allows you to track and watch your checking and savings accounts more closely. You can monitor money coming in and going out, and so more easily avoid incurring overdraft fees.
Track your expenses
You can track your expenses in many ways. You can track them online or by using a written check register to record all of your transactions. It’s a good idea to record all of your deposits and withdrawals. This will help you maintain a running account balance.
Set up balance alerts
Some financial institutions will alert you when your account dips below a specific amount. By establishing account alerts, you’ll know when to transfer or deposit more money into your account to cover any upcoming transactions that could lead to a negative balance.
Keep a cushion in your account
Try to keep a little extra money in your account to cover unforeseen expenses. This can help prevent accidentally overdrafting your account.
Ask your bank for alternatives to overdraft protection
Some banks and credit unions have alternatives to overdraft protection. For example, certain financial institutions will allow you to link your savings account to your checking account. When you overdraw your checking account, funds from your savings account will be transferred, providing similar service as overdraft protection. Keep in mind that there will likely be a fee for this transaction, but it tends to be less than an overdraft fee.
The bottom line
Paying an overdraft fee is a costly and often unnecessary expense. Some of the best ways to avoid overdraft fees include understanding your financial institution’s overdraft policy, tracking your expenses, and staying within a budget. Being proactive will not only help you prevent overdraft fees, but it will help you successfully manage your money.